24. Bud

This scenario and others subtitled with a generic man’s name are fictitious. However, they are based on accumulated understandings about husbands either depicted in literature or real life.

My name is Bud. My wife’s name is Billie. Thirty-four years of marriage. Fifty-four would be a better number. But that will never happen.

My friend Jake is a word guy. He enjoys them. Does crossword puzzles all the time.

We’re friends because of our mutual interest in sports. Not because of words!

As an engineer, I think words are necessary labeling tools. But I’m more interested in numbers. Numbers are exact. Precise.

In my profession there isn’t much room for nuances. Subtle differences in meaning. It either is or is not. Words leave too much room for interpretation.

Now I’m learning words are better descriptors of human behavior than numbers, because we human beings are so complex. And different.

As Jake would say, our personalities have “shadings” and even “contradictions.” Those can’t be described in numerical terms.

He thinks nothing can be pinned down scientifically. An example is that scientists are now backing away from traditional tests of intelligence. That IQ numbers are still valid as one indicator of human potential, but not seen as comprehensive as they once were.

—————-

Billie was 18 and I was 20 when we married. Probably too young. But age is just a number. We thought we were mature enough and our parents approved. And, in a word, we were happy.

Billie supported us through my years in college. And later she completed a secretarial degree in a community college. It worked out well. Precisely as planned.

One daughter was born before we could afford a baby, but we made do. Then another daughter, and finally a son, somewhat more planned.

Our lives were not perfect, but eventually we could afford a good house in a pleasant neighborhood. The schools were good, and our kids made better than average grades.

Both daughters went to college a few years and dropped out to marry. Our son finished college and is now in graduate school, studying to be a nurse.

Billie works as a secretary to an attorney. It’s been a good job and she has done well.

But a few days ago, her boss called me about Billie’s behavior. She was making uncharacteristic mistakes at work.

“Was she doing that at home?”

Yes. But nothing significant. A little forgetfulness. Trouble finding the right utensils in the kitchen. Things like that.

Her boss understood but requested a medical opinion. Multiple mistakes made in a lawyer’s office were unacceptable. 

Billie and I visited our GP, who referred us to a neurologist. Tests were conducted. They eliminated treatable conditions associated with things like hormonal disorders, infection, or the aftereffects of a mild stroke.

It was early onset dementia, which further tests indicated was probably Alzheimer’s.

There was no way to know for certain, but it could be “rapid” onset. Which means its symptoms would quickly worsen.

Like Julianne Moore’s character in Still Alice, a 2014 movie.

The real person depicted by Moore was 51 and died within five years. Basketball coach Pat Summitt was diagnosed at 59, and also died in five years.

Wow! For Billie, age 53, that means she would never reach age 60. It means we didn’t have much time to adjust. To think things through. To talk things out.

But plans must be made by the family. Her job. My job. Finances. Travel modifications. Eventual in-home care. Possible future institutionalization. Long term care insurance.

It started with periods of denial for both of us, and the eventual crying while we held each other tight. Sobbing our way through the trauma. The loss of a future. The ultimate loss of the magical bond that started over 35 years ago.

—————-

My buddy Jake was an English major and has been married twice. He is now single and teaches at a local community college. We’ve known each other since our junior year in high school.

As different as we are, there are two things that support our friendship. Sports and his love of our family. All of us. Billie and the three kids. In fact, the kids call him Uncle Jake. And he seems to like it.

His two divorces are evidence of a pretty chaotic personal life, but Jake is philosophical about it. Occasionally he cites some author of classical literature. Stuff that is hundreds of years old. Most of the time he comes across as being a little crazy to me, but he seems to enjoy my puzzled looks.

Jake was as devastated as we were upon hearing of Billie’s diagnosis. He was uncharacteristically silent, and I’m sure a tear ran down his cheek. Afterward the two of us went out on our home’s patio.

Still quiet.

We just sat there. And then Jake said, “One of my favorite classical authors is a man named George Gordon Byron. Today he is usually known as Lord Byron.”

I said I’d never heard of the guy. Probably not an engineer or mathematician. Jake nodded his head and told me he was an English poet who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And he died at age 36.

According to Jake, Byron led a very eventful life. While taking time to write some of the most significant literature in history, he also pursued other passions with equal enthusiasm. Many of his activities were questionable, and his rashness led to his demise. He died because of an illness contracted after a Greek war in which he participated.

Life is not an accumulation of numbers. Of years.

Not just two numbers with a dash in between.

In a poem about war, Byron used the words “fickleness of fate” and “transience of human life.” But, according to Jake, those terms can be applied to life in general.

How we spend the precious years we’re given is more important than the final numerical tally. What Billie and I have done with our 35 years together is more important than the number itself.

What we do with the next five years is equally important. Jake asked me how Billie and I would respond to that challenge.

I have no idea.

But I’ve been convinced by a good friend that’s something Billie and I need to discuss soon.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself. ©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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